The Washington Post reported yesterday that top officials at the U.S. Department of the Interior prevented climate change experts from showing Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg impacts of warming at Glacier National Park. According to the story: The decision to micromanage Zuckerberg’s stop in Montana from 2,232 miles east in Washington, made by top officials at the Interior Department, the National Park Service’s parent agency, was highly unusual — even for a celebrity visit. It capped days of internal discussions — including conference calls and multiple emails — among top Interior Department and Park Service officials about how much the park should roll out the welcome mat for Zuckerberg, who with the broader tech community in Silicon Valley has positioned himself as a vocal critic of President Trump, particularly of his withdrawal from the Paris climate accord. Those experts included the park’s superintendent Jeff Mow and Daniel Fagre, a research ecologist with the U.S. Geological Survey who is stationed at the park. Earlier this week, Fagre told the Post’s reporter he didn’t know what had happened: Three days before the tech leader’s July 15 visit to Glacier, research ecologist Daniel Fagre said he was told that his scheduled tour with Zuckerberg of Logan Pass on the Continental Divide was off.
This month, I started working on a new project with New Mexico in Focus. Each month, we’ll explore a different issue on “Our Land: New Mexico’s Environmental Past, Present and Future.” The first show aired last night on New Mexico PBS/KNME-TV and was loosely based around reporting I had done earlier this year in partnership with NM Political Report and the Santa Fe Reporter. Related story: The Heart of Darkness
In the first episode of “Our Land,” we visited with Jeremy Sweat, the Chief of Resource Management at Bandelier National Monument and Collin Haffey, a resource ecologist with the U.S. Geological Survey to learn about how forests are, and are not, recovering six years after Las Conchas Fire burned 156,000 acres in the Jemez Mountains. You can watch the full video of the segment below. Haffey brought the crew out to a 30,000 acre area where Las Conchas burned so intensely that in many places, there are essentially no living trees left, and no seed sources for regeneration.
On the edge of the Valle Grande in northern New Mexico stands a grove of towering ponderosa pines. The trees, many of them between 250 and 400 years old, comprise what’s called the History Grove, and they offer a snapshot into what the forests of the Jemez Mountains looked like centuries ago—before widespread grazing in the late 19th century and decades of fire suppression by the federal government. During a recent trip there, I was reminded of what goes into protecting and maintaining our forests and landscapes. Land management, as it’s called, is made of up of meetings and programs, line-item budgets and public comment periods. And sometimes, expensive lawsuits and bitter battles.
The oil company BP announced it will close its Farmington, New Mexico office by the end of the year and reduce its in-state workforce by about 40 employees. Other current New Mexico employees will be relocated to the company’s office in Durango, Colorado. In a statement, the company said that move will “help improve the efficiency and competitiveness of its operations in the San Juan Basin.”
The company emphasized in its emailed statement it “has no plans to decrease its overall investment in New Mexico.” Currently, the company operates 2,600 wells in the state and will “seek to drill new wells in New Mexico when feasible.”
Earlier this year, BP announced it will open its new headquarters in Denver next year. In recent years, Colorado has increased regulations for oil and gas drilling within state boundaries. Last week, Gov. John Hickenlooper, a Democrat, announced the state’s commitment to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
Last week, a United Nations group signed a draft treaty to prohibit the development, manufacturing and testing of nuclear weapons. When President Donald Trump pulled the United States back from global climate change action earlier this year, that move was met with outrage from many, including elected leaders, across the country. The international action banning nuclear weapons has received far less attention, including here in New Mexico where many communities have been wedded to nuclear weapons research, production and waste since World War II. Today, the U.S. and Russia together control more than 90 percent of the world’s nuclear weapons. Eight countries have tested nuclear weapons, and currently, the United States remains the only one to have deployed nuclear weapons outside of tests.
Today is the final day to share your thoughts about national monuments as part of a review by the federal government. Earlier this spring, the U.S. Department of the Interior solicited public comment on Secretary Ryan Zinke’s review of monuments larger than 100,000 acres that were designated from 1996 onward. This includes two monuments in New Mexico, the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument near Taos and the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument in the southern part of the state. The review was spurred by Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch’s opposition to national monuments, including President Barack Obama’s 2016 designation of Bears Ears and President Bill Clinton’s 1996 designation of Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument. “We’re now getting something done that people thought would never get done, and I’m doing it in honor of you guys,” President Donald Trump said in April during the signing ceremony for the order directing Zinke to review the monuments.
NM Political Report’s third News & Brews event featured NMFishbowl.com’s Daniel Libit and New Mexico Foundation for Open Government Board President Greg Williams. Reporter Andy Lyman interviewed the two about Libit’s recent public records lawsuit against the University of New Mexico Foundation and transparency issues related to the university’s athletics department. “I’m a curious observer much more than I am a fan,” Libit said of the Lobos. Libit has filed over 150 records requests under the state’s Inspection of Public Records trying to understand how the UNM Foundation makes its decisions and raises its money. Last November, Libit launched his website with a story raising important questions about the WisePies naming rights of The Pit, the university’s arena that hosts basketball games. Libit now lives in Chicago but grew up in Albuquerque.
U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke issued an order Thursday, aimed at boosting oil and gas leasing on federal lands. During a call with reporters, Zinke said the agency was specifically targeting for development places like the Permian Basin in New Mexico, Utah’s Uintah Basin and the National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska. Out of the 700 million acres administered by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM), he said only about 27 million are currently under lease. He also called out the agency for the length of time it takes to approve permits for oil and gas projects. The BLM’s permitting process, he said, takes 257 days.
A federal court has thwarted plans by the head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to suspend an Obama-era rule tracking and cutting methane pollution from the oil and gas industry. Last month, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt suspended his agency’s implementation of the rule, which was opposed by the American Petroleum Institute, the Texas Oil and Gas Association and the Independent Petroleum Association of America. But on Monday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia sided with six environmental groups and granted an emergency stay of Pruitt’s suspension. In their opinion, the appeals court judges wrote that Pruitt’s suspension of the rule was both “unauthorized” and “unreasonable.” They overturned it, calling it arbitrary, capricious and in excess of the agency’s statutory authority. Jon Goldstein, director of regulatory and legislative affairs for the Environmental Defense Fund, said the court decision could have a big effect on New Mexico, particularly in the southeastern part of the state.
Just a week after the announcement that U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Southwest Regional Director Benjamin Tuggle would be reassigned, the agency issued a notice saying it will give states the authority to decide where and when Mexican gray wolves can be released. Related story: Interior Department reorganization will hit New Mexico’s landscapes, communities
On Thursday, the agency released a draft revision to its Mexican Wolf Recovery Plan, which guides plans to remove the wolf from protection under the Endangered Species Act. Under the administration of Gov. Susana Martinez, New Mexico has opposed wolf reintroductions, and in 2011, the Game Commission ended the state’s participation in the program. The commission also voted to stop the federal government from releasing any new captive-raised wolves in the state and sued. A federal judge then blocked any new releases.